Dr TK Tope college lost a student to TB. It vowed: Never again

Sarita contracted the disease and thought of committing suicide many times. Today she is a graduate – thanks to her profs

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Lying exhausted in bed, unable to move a limb, with a body rankled by several bouts of vomiting, Sarita (name changed) thought of committing suicide several times. Suffering from the deadly MDR-TB (multi-drug-resistant tuberculosis), she had stopped going to college and was on the verge of giving up her studies.

Today the 25-year-old, who hails from a poor family, has graduated from Dr TK Tope Night College, thanks to the efforts of her professors, who ensured one crucial thing: that she had money to buy nutritious food.

Returning to studies after a gap of two years, Sarita, daughter of a millworker and domestic worker, completed her BCom this April and on Tuesday she got her marksheet from Mumbai University.

Located in Parel’s mill area, the institute, among the oldest affiliated night colleges of MU, caters to students from marginalised groups, who pursue studies while working. “Most of our students are so poor they are not able to afford two square meals,” Principal Vitthal Rokade told Mirror. “Many of them are underweight and malnourished. They live in congested homes and contract diseases. Recently, when we held a blood donation drive, we found that 50 per cent of our students are not fit to donate blood as they are underweight and have poor haemoglobin levels. Among girls there is practically no one who is fit. Lack of nutrition is a big issue and the single-most reason is poverty.”

A decade ago, the college received a jolt when it lost one of its best students to TB. “Atish was a topper and one day we heard that he had succumbed to TB. None of us had an inkling that he was going through this ordeal without any support,” a professor said.

Spurred by the incident, the faculty resolved to look at students’ personal and health problems more closely. When Sarita’s case came to light, they resolved she would not become another casualty.

Rokade said Sarita’s medicines were provided by the Sewri TB Hospital. The problem was she could not afford good food. “We approached a trust and received a donation of Rs 60,000. I put the money in a bank and allowed her to withdraw Rs 5,000 a month, which she had to spend on food alone,” he said.

To ensure that she spent the money only on food, Sarita had to submit bills to the principal. “I used to buy milk, eggs, vegetables and fruit,” she said.

Sarita’s fight against TB lasted two years. “I felt like committing suicide several times, for which I received counselling at the hospital,” she said. Her father, who passed away in 2011, and brother too suffered from TB. “Since we have a small house, it is easy to contract it,” she said.

Sarita enrolled for the BCom course in 2013-14. After missing college in 2016 and ’17, she returned to complete her studies. “I first tackled my ATKTs. I appeared for TYBCom in April and got the results in October.”

Because of the contagious nature of her illness, Sarita had to sit her exams in a separate room. “It was the darkest period of my life. I feel like I have won. My father wanted me to become a doctor. At least I could finish graduation,” she said, breaking into tears.

Dr TK Tope Night College; (top right) the principal, Vitthal Rokade